Friends On Call—Part 1

Friends lift us up

“What do we live for, if it is not to make life less difficult for each other?” – by George Eliot

In spite of having a most enjoyable trip to the Texas Hill Country early last week, I ended up wading in the familiar waters of depression toward the end of the week, which is why I posted only one blog entry during that time. Depression is like that; it strikes when we least expect it, seemingly without provocation. I have often joked that my depressive dips are due to Mercury being aspected with Pluto and rising in Capricorn, or some other incomprehensible astrological event—they are that random.

Yet, as I looked back over the week, I realized that I had not participated in several things involving other people that are a part of my usual schedule, and which serve as important sources of support and connection for me. I didn’t attend my action meeting on Monday with my action partner, due to being out of town. I didn’t go to Toastmasters. I missed my Master Mind group. I didn’t attend any support group meetings. And I missed a couple of my thrice-weekly Aquacise classes.

In addition, I had to look at my diet. I ate some wheat on at least three occasions last week. It wasn’t a lot, but I appear to be very sensitive to wheat. (As soon as I can, I plan to get tested for wheat and gluten sensitivity.) More than one book I’ve read about the correlation between diet and mood disorders has said that wheat is bad news for people with depression.

So, even though the At Random Factor (ARF—like a dog, you never know when it’s going to bark) was definitely present, there were things I could have done and things I could have avoided doing that would have helped me stay out of depression. I could have resumed my usual routine as soon as I returned from my trip. I could have taken a couple of walks to make up for the exercise classes I missed. I could have stayed away from the multi-grain chips and brownie (just a bite! Really!) and ice cream (sugar = bad news, too) that I munched on while out of town. I could have phoned in to a support group meeting. I could even have temporarily increased the amount of fish oil I take. Doing these things would have helped me to feel connected to other people and to life itself, and would have helped my brain chemistry stay on an even keel. And if these things were too hard for me to do on my own (which they obviously were, or I would have done them), I could have made some outreach calls to get support.

As so often happens, however, I wasn’t even aware that the depression was beginning to wash over me, just that I felt “off” and wasn’t functioning too well, until the episode had passed. What there is for me to do is learn from what happened. Clearly, when there is a major interruption to my routine, even a fun, adventurous one, I need to take some preventive measures.

Key among these is to make sure I stay connected to other people, wherever I am, and to ask for help when I need it. That is where having a support team comes in.

EXERCISE: In the previous blog posting (“What Dogs and People Have In Common”, I asked you to make a list of six friends who would be supportive if you were to call them and ask for help. It may be that coming up with six was a bit of a challenge. That’s fine; you can always add to your team as you go along. You’ll be surprised at how many people are willing to help when you ask. Pull out your list and some additional paper and a pen, or your computer if you prefer.

Just as you cannot be all things to other people, other people cannot be all things to you. Different people will be able to provide different levels of support, depending upon how long you’ve known them and how close you are. No doubt, people will move from level to level as you get to know them better. I suggest the following levels of support:

Support Levels 1-4:


Level 1:      Provide companionship at an exercise or dance class, share a hobby or other common interest, join you for coffee, lunch, or other social activity. People at this level may not know you have depression, but they help to bring you out of isolation and to feel connected. Meetups, clubs, and classes are good for this kind of support.

Level 2:      Previous level, plus they are willing to help out with practical tasks and errands, such as preparing food, grocery shopping, doing dishes, etc. They will need to know you have depression, or at least a chronic illness. Support team members at this level can also help with bookending. Bookending is simply calling a member of your support team to let her know that you are about to do something that is challenging for you; this provides built-in accountability. You hang up, go do whatever it is you planned to do, and then call your friend back to let her know you actually accomplished it. Or not. Either way, you aren’t alone. Neighbors, people you’ve met through church or other spiritual community and through volunteer organizations are good for this kind of support.

Level 3:     All previous levels, plus they listen supportively, provide feedback when requested, accompany you to doctor or other health care appointments, keep you company when you are especially down, assist with bill-paying and checkbook balancing, help you fill out forms and organize paperwork, etc. Close friends, support-group buddies, and peer counselors are good for this kind of support.

Level 4:     All previous levels, plus you can call any time, day or night, even at 3:00 in the morning. One of these support team members is the person to call when you are suicidal, but only AFTER you have called 911 and/or the suicide help line. Best friends or closest buddies are good for this kind of support. Close relatives could also provide Level 4 support if no friend fits the bill.

My Support Team Friends

Now, draw up a chart on a piece of paper or create it on your computer, using the following example with made-up data as a guide:

Name How I Know This Person Level of Support Local?
Phone Number(s) Best Times to Call Email Address
1.  Sharon Best friend



(500) 555-1000 Any time
2.  Denyse Good friend & action partner



(500) 555-1001 8 a.m. – 10 p.m. MT
3.  Sally Close friend



123-4321 Any time
4.  Dagmar Good friend



123-4322 8 a.m. – midnight
5.  Allison Sponsor



(500) 555-1002 Any time
6.  Julie Church



(500) 555-1003 10 a.m. – 8 p.m.
7.  David Support group buddy



123-4323 7 a.m. – 11 p.m.
8.  Will Friend



(500) 555-1004 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. AZ time
9.  Vicki Toastmasters



123-4324 Call cell; lv. msg.

Transfer the names from your initial list to your chart and fill it in, to the best of your knowledge. You can always add more info as you receive it. If you put “church” or “temple” on your initial list, call your pastor, rabbi, or other spiritual leader and find out what kind of help is available to people with chronic illnesses. Many churches have nurturing or outreach committees that visit sick or disabled individuals, providing companionship, meals, and practical support. (And yeah, I know you don’t want to see yourself as sick or disabled, but at this point you need to take advantage of whatever help is available.)

I know this is a challenging exercise, not only because it may be hard to focus but also because it’s difficult to come out of that isolating shell of depression, admit you need help, and begin to ask for it. You are worth it, however. I know you want (are willing?) to recover. Utilizing a support team will expedite your recovery. If you need help to complete any part of this exercise, this is a good time to practice bookending. And yes, I do have a support team of my own. I am realizing as I write this article that I don’t call on it nearly enough; it’s time to fine-tune it and pick up that 1000-pound phone more often!

P.S. In case you’re wondering if building a support team is somewhat antithetical to this blog’s title of “Rescue Yourself,” it’s not. The idea behind “rescue yourself” is that you and I and every one of us who has depression is responsible for taking our recovery into our own hands and doing whatever it takes to get well. It doesn’t mean we have to do it alone.

Next time: “Friends on Call—Part 2.”

(c) 2010 by Patricia R. Henschen


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